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Trump’s white voter problems

Add another group to the long list of those who can’t stand Donald Trump.

Wanda Melton has voted for every Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan in 1980, but now the Georgia grandmother plans to cross over to support Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“I’m not a real fan of Hillary,” Melton says from her office in Atlanta. “But I think it would just be awful to have Donald Trump.” She adds: “I cannot in good conscience let that happen.”

Melton is among a particular group of voters, whites with college degrees, who are resistant to Trump. Their skepticism comes as an ominous warning as Trump struggles to rebuild even the losing coalition that Mitt Romney managed four years ago.

College-educated whites made up more than one-third of the electorate in 2012. Polls suggest Trump trails Clinton with those voters, especially women.

“Donald Trump simply cannot afford to lose ground in any segment of the electorate” that supported Romney, said Florida pollster Fernand Amandi. Romney’s strength with that group, for example, made for a close race in Florida, where President Barack Obama won by less than 75,000 votes out of more than 8.4 million cast.


Romney drew support from 56 percent of white voters with college degrees, according to 2012 exit polls. Obama notched just 42 percent, but still cruised to a second term.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in June found Clinton leading Trump among college-educated whites 50 percent to 42 percent.

Polling from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center pointed to particularly stark numbers among white women with at least a bachelor’s degree. At this point in 2008 and 2012, that group of voters was almost evenly divided between Obama and the Republican nominee. This June, Pew found Clinton with a 62-31 advantage. Conversely, Pew found Trump still leads, albeit by a slightly narrower margin than did Romney at this point, among white women with less than a bachelor’s degree.

Five Thirty Eight has been on this as well. I bring this up because it puts a little context on the polling numbers we’ve seen so far in Texas, where Trump is drawing far less support than one normally sees for a Republican. Neither poll has seen fit to give us demographic information, so we have to rely on larger trends to help us fill in the blanks. We expect Trump to do very poorly with non-white voters, but if he is also lagging in this key Republican-leaning subgroup, then that’s one good explanation for his terrible numbers so far in Texas. We won’t know for sure what the reasons for the numbers are till we can see true crosstab data for several polls, but when we do we ought to have some idea going in what’s happening.

Of deeper interest is whether the Trump effect exists only at the Presidential level or whether it goes downballot as well. To the extent that Democratic turnout is up, that will influence races everywhere, though I think we’ll see for the first time since at least 2004 a significant gap between the Presidential total and everywhere else. Some of that will be due to Clinton crossovers, and some of it will be due to lower-propensity voters turning out and not doing much beyond the top of the ballot. On the Republican side, how much of Trump’s loss of college-educated white voters damages the rest of their ticket? I think most Republicans who don’t vote for Trump, whether they choose Clinton or a third party or just skip the Presidential race, will still vote as they normally do elsewhere, but a few may feel free to cross over in other races, and a few will decide to vote in races individually rather than hit the straight-ticket button. How much any of that affects other races is a wild guess, but none of it is likely to be beneficial for the Rs. We’re going to be studying this race for a long time after November 8.

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